Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Last night in Gif

Well tonight is my last night in Gif, tomorrow morning I move into the Cite Universitaire in Paris it certainly doesn't feel like I have been over here for 5 weeks already. . Here is a google map link to my new place http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&hl=en&geocode=&q=Cite+Universitaire,+Paris,+France&sll=48.856558,2.350966&sspn=0.118139,0.242043&ie=UTF8&ll=48.819552,2.339079&spn=0.003695,0.007564&t=h&z=17&om=1
I am going to be living at the College Franco-Britannique which is south-east of the green arrow. To be perfectly precise if you go directly south of the arrow, to the first building you come to, on the other side of the boulevard Jourdan and then go 2 buildings to your right and then one more building south, that big brown one is the CFB. The park certainly looks like a nice place, with running tracks and there is even an indoor pool in one of the buildings, only 25m unfortunately.
Before I leave the Chateau here in Gif, I took some photos so you can all see where I have been living for the last month
This is my room with my bed and the little washbasin.

Here is the communual kitchen. We each get a cupboard where they put our breakfast in the morning and the dining room.

This is the breakfast I got on Saturday morning. It is usually heaps better with a chocolate croissant, croissant and a bread roll with orange juice. They are just heaps slacker on the weekends, breakfast is always late on the weekend, they didn't give my anything at all on Sunday. The French really are pretty slack! I'll take a photo of tomorrow's breakfast so you can see what it normally was like

Monday, 23 July 2007


This weekend I couldn't hold out from the Paris shops anymore. I wanted to go shopping before the sales ended and in France the shops are only allowed 2 sales in a year and they are at specified dates. Apparently it is to stop the big companies dominating the little businesses. It was true that I didn't see any of the big US brands out shopping so maybe the idea is working. It does mean that everyone else is also out shopping at the same time though. I could put up a whole stack of photos of what I bought, but I don't want to bore everyone. One thing I did buy was the new Harry Potter book. In France there really is no need to queue all night for a book, they were just sitting in a pile in one of the department stores. I guess the French aren't all that interested in the stories of a British wizard, plus the books were all in English. I won't tell you how it ends but I liked it, maybe even one of my favorites out of all of them. Now I'm going to have to read it again as I raced through it the first time to find out what happens in the end.

Credit cards mustn't be used as much over here, I think everyone here stills uses cheques. As almost every place I used credit at they wanted my passport or other identification and they then copied down the details on their receipt. They never really checked that my signature matched the one on the card though, so I don't think they have quite got the hang of the whole credit card thing.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

French Weather

Up until now the weather has been pretty bad here, not what I would call summer at all, cold and rainy/overcast. Everyone here said that it's not normally this bad and that the weather normally gets better after Bastille day (the 14th of July). On the 13th it was still cold and raining in the morning so I didn't really believe that it would get much better by the next day. But by that afternoon the clouds had cleared and it was really hot, and it's pretty much been like that ever since, sunny skies and really warm. I think that is the real reason why the English hate the French, they have much better weather than them.

Another reason to visit me

Just in case the idea of seeing me, the wonderful French countryside and the awesome Paris sights aren't enough I had a look at the price of alcohol in the supermarket today. Over here 1 euro has pretty much the buying power of $1, that is 1 euro buys the same amount of stuff as you would expect a dollar to here, and yet a bottle of cointreau was 17 euro and vodka was 8 euro! When I move into Paris I think I might be stocking up on a few bottles.

As well as the alcohol my supermarket also sells suitcases, strange I know

Monday, 16 July 2007

The Tour de France

This weekend the Tour had one of its 3 mountain-top finishes, and this one happened to be on a weekend. It was Stage 8, the second Alp stage of the tour, finishing at the ski resort in Tignes and it was too good a chance to miss. Reanna came across from Manchester and together we caught the train out to Bourg-St-Maurice on Saturday afternoon. Bourg is a great little town, nestled in amongst the Alps, with two fantastic supermarkets (I know I'm obsessed with them, but they were good!). We had an epic adventure trying to see the Tour, but in the end the Alexander luck came through and we made it to the stage about 5 minutes before the sponsor's caravan came through.

So the story is that I checked on the cyclingnews and official Tour de France web site to try and get some maps of where the stage was going to go, so I could work out a good spot on the second last mountain that was within walking distance of Bourg. I thought I had worked out a plan that if we walked for at most 2.5 hours we would be a fair way up the hill and still have time to make it back to Bourg in time to catch the train back to Paris. So Reanna and I set out on Sunday morning ready to see the Tour, we followed what I thought was the road and we saw heaps (!!!) of cyclists along the way and all the team cars/buses/trucks and officials so we were pretty sure this was the right road. It didn't seem to be going up as fast as what I was expecting from the profile map, but after 2.5 hours (and 11kms) of walking we started to climb a mountain. I thought great this is it, so we found a good spot, had lunch and settled in to wait. All the time there are cyclists and team cars constantly coming past us, but it wasn't until about 1.5 hours before the race was due past that a French cyclist stopped and said "You know the tour doesn't come past here? It comes past further on".

At this stage there was no way we could walk further on though, because we wouldn't be able to get back in time for our train, we were already 2.5 hours away from the station. At first I didn't believe him, but then I stopped a British cyclist and asked him and he kindly pulled over (even though it was a steep hill) and pulled out his Tour map and showed us where we were and where the tour goes, which yes wasn't anywhere close to where we were. At this stage we thought we were going to miss it, we couldn't make it back to Bourg in time to see it, and if we kept walking we would miss the train. Luckily there was a French family (with a car) near us, and when I found out the Tour wasn't coming I let them know and they very kindly gave us a lift back to the second last climb. We managed to arrive about 5 minutes before the caravan came through, so we got to collect a whole stack of free stuff from the sponsors (mostly just key rings). The pick of the bunch though was the Predictor-Lotto and Caisse D'Epargne water bottles that were discarded by the Tour riders. All in all we ended up walking about 18kms, when the most we should have done is 10km. No wonder I was sore the next day!

Now to the Tour! It was awesome, there were stacks of people all over the mountain and we walked a bit further out to get away from everyone so we would be able to see the cyclists clearly. The atmosphere was awesome, with the sponsor's cars taking about an hour to come through, and some of them were pretty crazy. Then all the officials and gendarmes would come flying through the roads and about 40 minutes after that the cyclists started coming by. There was actually a pretty steady stream of cars coming through all the time, until just before the cyclists. And the team cars that follow the cyclists are actually really close to the riders so you have to really watch out or they will probably hit you. Some of the team cars were a bit crazy with how they were driving to get around cyclists to get further up the road and I'm suprised that the cyclists don't get hit.

The cyclists are all really small too, I didn't realise just how small, but they are probably about my height, if not shorter, and really skinny! Even George Hincapie, or Big George, is pretty tiny. They are also really colourful too, I suppose you don't often see every cyclist wearing brand-spanking new team kit, the average cyclist wears their jersey's over and over again. By the time the cyclists got to us the peleton had been shredded by the climbs before hand, so we got quite a few groups coming past. First was Rasmussen, on his way to the yellow jersey and then the main group of GC contenders before the sprinters group came by. In amongst that there were quite a few cyclists riding by themselves too. I got to see Robbie Mcwen, he came through 2nd last and in the end didn't make the time cut-off so he wasn't allowed to start the next day. It was really hot and he looked like he was suffering. I also go to see Tom Boonen, the best looking cyclist in the peleton, so that was a bonus. The bomb from Ballan is what they call him. All in all it was a good day, once we made it there, and I'm looking forward to the finish in Paris, where hopefully I can get some better pictures than these ones.

The crazy caravan cars:

The cyclists coming through, they went really fast, even on this steep hill. The first picture is the sprinters group just taking it easy up the hill. They weren't pushing themselves at all, just sitting back and chatting amongst themselves. The second picture is Rasmussen in the breakaway currently leading the Tour.

Finally we have a stylish European, and no those are not Speedo's, they are just his underpants, I like his hat though. And then we have the schwag we managed to collect from the sponsor's caravan.

And finally we have obligatory photos of the French Alps. In the second picture we walked to the base of the mountain on the right with the very sharp peak, it was a long way away!

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Weird-ass supermarkets

Today after work I decided to investigate what I thought was a supermarket around the corner from the train station in Gif. It was kind of a supermarket, but only for frozen food. It was a strange shop, it looked like they had decided that since all their food is really sterile and processed they were going to go for that same feel with their decor. So it was this weird hospital blue colour with fluorescent lights and stacks of freezers. They sold everything you could imagine, including frozen bread and frozen patessiries. And the weirdest thing was there were actually quite a lot of people in there. I thought the French people actually liked food?

Sunday, 8 July 2007

The Rodin Museum

Sorry about blogger again, I don't understand what is wrong with it, in the Preview my photos look fine and then when I publish the post it looks really bad, and the photos seem to end up in completely random places. Maybe I should start a list about all the things I hate with blogger. But this is a blog about my adventures in Paris, so I'll leave that for another day.

The second part of my art day involved the Rodin museum. He was the guy who sculptured "The Thinker" or in French "Le Penseur". For some reason I always thought The Thinker was sculptured in the time of Michaelangelo, I don't know why I thought that, but today I discovered the truth. Here is the obligatory photo of The Thinker.

There was heaps of stuff here, and the museum had really awesome grounds which are only 1 euro to visit by themselves. Rodin really had some amazing stuff, I especially liked his marble sculptures, they seemed smoother than the bronze ones.

Here is a photo looking back towards the museum with the gardens which were really immaculate, though I think they need to change the water in this fountain.

Musee d'Orsay

Today was a day for art. First up was the Musee d'Orsay, I went here last year when I was visiting Paris, and I have to say that it is awesome. I really like the impressionists though so for me it is so much more impressive than the Louvre. If you do plan on visiting I would try and arrive before 11am because after that the entrance line just goes crazy. I managed to arrive about 5 minutes before the hordes, so it wasn't too bad for me. This was the line when I got out of the gallery, it is hard to tell in the picture but the line stretches almost all the way to the rhinoceros and winds its way back past the poster almost to the road. And it doesn't move that fast! Once you are inside though there is not much of a crowd. At least not until you get to the impressionist gallery, where they have all the famous paintings by Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh etc. I think a lot of people only come here for that gallery and so it is packed. My favourite piece there isn't in these packed galleries, though the Monets and stuff are fantastic, it is by itself on the lower levels. It's a sculpture by Pompon, but I couldn't find anything else that he's done, I guess he peaked with the bear.

The Musee d'Orsay is actually in a converted train station, I don't see why the train stations in use nowadays have to look so dodgy then. I guess if you cover anything with marble and put a whole stack of art in it, it's going to look pretty good.

Some of the pieces were a bit random, like the following beds and chairs, I'm not sure what was going on there. I guess the curator really likes furniture.

And the last picture I'll leave you with was in the Symbolism gallery, if anyone can tell me what it means and where the symbols are that would be great.

Saturday, 7 July 2007

First week at work

So I have completed my first week at work, and it went heaps better than expected, though I had pretty low expectations. I have started in the lab already, which is great, because I think that is where I work best and can ask more questions about what is going on. Tomorrow we are having a big group meeting and everyone is going to go over their current and future projects, and then I get to pick on that I want to 'lead', though I use that word very loosely. I'm really looking forward to having an experiment of my own, though I will probably just end up following on from another PhD student here, who is due to leave pretty soon. One of the best things about work here is that they never work on weekends, woohoo. Even the big cryostat they only run for 3 days a week. I really love that about the French, they know how to live!

Gif shopkeepers

The shopkeepers in Gif are a funny lot. The town is apparently where heaps of rich people live so I guess they have to do things a bit differently for the rich folk. At the fruit and veg store they have everything laid out, just inviting you to pick the apples and stuff that you want, but no that's not how it works. Instead there is one guy employed and you tell him what you want and he will pick everything out for you. I've been in there when there have been a few other people, and nobody picks their own food, they all just wait for this one person to get to them. I suppose that's why the French aren't known for their efficiency.

They also have a seafood shop here which is open 3 days a week (I think). It actually seems pretty random when it is open or not. I don't think I'm going to be shopping there, at least not unless I feel like having 3 days off work. All the seafood is just laid out on ice (I guess at least they do that) but then it is basically sitting in the street, with no walls or coverings of any sort. So all the flies and bugs that feel like gorging themselves on seafood can just go right ahead. Yuck!

One thing I'm loving though are the awesome bakeries, the bread really is better here. And the eclairs are something else!

Funny Frenchities II

Some more funny French things I've noticed:

The shop keepers here have this love-affair going with the small change in their tills and want to hang on to it for dear life. If you try and buy something small using a $20 they will, without fail, ask if you have anything smaller. I don't know what would happen if you tried to use a $50, I guess they just wouldn't sell you anything.

The post offices are open on Saturday, that is so awesome!!

Even the police look cool in France

The Concierge and Saint-Chapelle

The Concierge and Saint-Chapelle are kind of connected as they are all one part of what used to be the French palace. The Concierge was the gaol and torture chamber whilst Saint-Chapelle was built to house the holy relics of the French kings. The Concierge was where Marie-Antoinette spent 67 days after the French Revolution before being guillotened, though she certainly wasn't alone. The French went a bit crazy with the whole killing people and guillotened over 2700 people in the years 1793-1795.
It was interesting to see the Concierge, the name comes from the keeper of the prison, (who was called the concierge), but I wouldn't rate it in the top 10.

Below on the left is a recreation of Marie Antoinette's cell, complete with a life-size Marie doll. On the left of the picture is a screen which separates her from the gendarmes who were constantly watching her.

The picture on the right is the Hall of Men-at-Arms. It was built in 1310 and is huge. It was used as a dining room to feed the 2000 people in the king's service.

After the Concierge I went to Saint-Chapelle and whilst I had to stand in a massive line for maybe 40 minutes, it was totally worth it, even for the approximately 30 minutes I spent inside. It is an amazing building and unfortunately the camera really doesn't do it justice. Unlike Notre-Dame, Saint-Chapelle was built in only 6 years from 1248, and it was intended to house the crown of thorns (which the king at the time spent 3 times the value of the chapel on) as well as, among other things, a fragment of the True Cross. So a lot of effort went into making the chapel good enough for the relics. Unfortunately during the French Revolution these relics were stolen, so I couldn't see the crown of thorns :(.

On the left is the lower chapel, where the poor people went to pray, whilst on the right is the upper chapel which was connected directly to the palace, so the royalty never had to see the plebs downstairs. The upper chapel was were the relics were stored and it had this amazing feeling of space. It really was beautiful and I highly recommend it, especially after seeing Notre-Dame.

This is a picture of the outside of Saint-Chapelle, with what used to be the palace on the right, it is now the law court of France.

The Parisii

Sorry about how the pictures are looking, but I find it hard to easily make blogger look good, and I'm sorry my dear reader I just can't be bothered spending ages to get it looking perfect.

After visiting Notre Dame, I went underground. As you may or may not know Notre Dame is on an island in the middle of the Seine, in the middle of Paris. This island was where a celtic tribe, called the Parisii, moved in and set up a town in centuries BC. The island was easily defendable as back then it was surrounded by marshes and a river. But not so easily defendable that the Romans couldn't move in and conquer everyone, in renamed the town Lutetia. So ever since the Parisii there have been people living in the same site, where ground zero was underneath Notre Dame. When they were doing excavations they found the ancient ruins of the Romans and the subsequent people.

The ancient ruins underneath Notre Dame. The column on the right is an old Roman column that was incorporated in buildings which came later

Notre Dame, Part 2

Today I returned to Notre Dame, to fight the hordes of tourists and somehow make it inside. Notre Dame is on of the most popular tourist attractions in Paris, along with the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower, and once I was inside I could really feel that. The place was completely packed and you are sort of shuffled along this tourist conveyor belt as the hordes move around the outside of the cathedral. They have confessional booths set-up around the outside and the centre is meant for people praying, though god knows why you would go to one of the least peaceful churches in the world to pray! I think the catholic church should just admit that it's basically just a tourist attraction now and go all out. The cathedral itself is amazing and you can see why it took 200 years to finish. Though I think the upper bit was better, being able to see the gargoyles. So if you only want to stand in one massive line when you go to Notre Dame, I would chose the line that goes up the bell tower. Below are some pictures of the stained glass windows and the inside of the cathedral.
The entrance to Notre-Dame, with a small line in front of me,
this line only gets longer as the day goes on
A weird statue inside, I don't know who is is meant to be, but they are climbing out of a coffin. The catholics go in for some strange art work
The inside of the cathedral looking over the alter, with the obligatory stained glass windows